The maternal state

The Age reported yesterday on the first women-only political party, What Women Want Australia. Rarely has entitlement feminism been so blatant; usually at least a see-through blouse of principle covers the naked self-interest. According to The Age‘s story:

Launching the What Women Want Australia party in Brisbane today, Justine Caines said women needed better representation and were sick of being paid lip service on key issues.

These included paid maternity leave, post-natal services, access to child care, education and the environment.

Though relatively few women have held senior political positions, much more than lip service has been paid to policies affecting women. Indeed, for all the talk on this blog and elsewhere about redistributing money between income deciles and between household types, one of the biggest things the government does is redistribute income from men to women.

The ATO’s statistics show that men pay more than twice as much income tax as women. Yet they receive back less than women in return.

Nearly 60% of the recipients in the Budget’s biggest expense, the old age pension, are women. Continue reading “The maternal state”

Where do I belong on the Crikey blogging bias-o-meter?

This week Crikey has been rating various forms of media outlets by their political bias, from 0 in the middle stretching to 10 in each ideological direction, right and left. Today they turn to blogging (subscribers only).

My bias is quite open (‘Carlton’s lone classical liberal’), and I received the most votes in the best solo libertarian blog competition, but it seems that Crikey only rates me as a 1 on the right side of their bias-o-meter. My friends at Catallaxy, by contrast, score a 6.

How can this be?
Continue reading “Where do I belong on the Crikey blogging bias-o-meter?”

Why are people satisfied with their work-life balance?

According to The Age‘s report of the first Australian Work and Life Index

…work follows most people beyond the office with men especially reporting more “spillover” than women. Yet, in a seemingly contradictory finding, three-quarters of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the bargain struck between work and life. (emphasis added)

The seemingly contradictory statistics run like this: around half of workers say that work interferes with ‘activities outside work’ (combining ‘sometimes’ and ‘often/almost always’) and with ‘community connections’. Sixty percent think that it ‘interferes with ‘enough time for family and friends’. Only 16% say that they ‘never/rarely’ feel rushed for time. Yet 75% say that they are satisfied with their work-life balance.

The missing concept that leads journalists to think these results are contradictory – and a concept that is missing rather too often from labour market analysis – is trade-off. There are more worthwhile things that most of us would like to do than we can fit in a day, a week, or even a life, and this means that we cannot maximise them all in the same time period. Yet we can be satisfied with our overall work-life balance because given the objectives we have we are content with the trade-offs we have made.

This is evident in the statistics provided in Work and Life Index report. Continue reading “Why are people satisfied with their work-life balance?”

Where are the missing HECS debtors?

Today the Australian National Audit Office released a ‘performance audit’ (pdf) of the Higher Education Loan Program, which supports the three types of student loans: HECS-HELP for Commonwealth-subsidised students, FEE-HELP for full-fee students, and OS-HELP, which helps finance study overseas.

The ANAO’s audit was a box-ticking exercise that found little wrong with the administration of HELP. What’s more concerning, as I argued in my paper on FEE-HELP (pdf) last year, is the overall design of the system, which controls losses by setting arbitrary loan limits, while losing or delaying receipt of lots of money that could be recovered with better policy design.

Publications released since then highlight the problem. The DEST Higher Education Report 2005 stated that 1,121,822 people had a HECS debt as at 30 June 2005. Yet the ATO’s personal income tax report reports only 250,085 persons making a repayment through the taxation system in 2004-05. Where are the other 871,737 people?
Continue reading “Where are the missing HECS debtors?”

Who thinks that they have low status?

If leftists support “political programmes that seek to eliminate status differences or moderate their impact” then the best way to reduce the left’s opposition to free markets would be to sever the link between income and status.

Don Arthur, 10 June.

But how strong is the existing link between income and status? This issue can be approached from two directions. We can ask people what weight they give income when assessing the status of another person – I am not aware of research on this, though I’m sure somebody must have put the question in a survey. We can also ask people how they perceive their own status and compare that self-assessment with their income. A question in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2005 asks:

In our society there are groups which tend to be towards the top and groups which tend to be towards the bottom. Below is a scale that runs from the top to the bottom where the top is 10 and the bottom is 1. Where would you put yourself on this scale?

Overall, whatever others may think of them, most people do not think they are on the ‘bottom’ of society. Only 2% rate themselves as ‘1’ and only 18% below 5. If we thought of society as having 10 status deciles, 40% should rate themselves below 5. Consistent with an egalitarian ethos, few rate themselves too highly either. Only 3% of respondents put themselves in the top 20% of society.

Low income is, however, associated with lower status. Continue reading “Who thinks that they have low status?”

Does gay marriage have majority support?

To coincide with the release of a HREOC report on anti-gay discrimination, political spammers GetUp! have released a Galaxy poll (pdf) on the rights of same-sex partners.

This is the first time a survey has found majority support for gay marriage, with 57% of respondents agreeing that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. As GetUp!’s media release notes, this is a big increase on the last poll on gay marriage, a 2004 Newspoll that found 38% in favour. Could things have changed that much in two years?

Actually, less than two years. Over 2005 and 2006 there were three surveys on the seemingly less contentious issue of civil unions, with the proportions in favour ranging from 45% to 52%. That gay marriage now comes out ahead of civil unions, without any major intervening debate or publicity, inevitably raises question about whether opinion has really changed or it is something to do with the survey itself.
Continue reading “Does gay marriage have majority support?”

Do issues explain Labor’s lead?

Labor’s lead in the polls is persistent and substantial, but the pundits are having trouble explaining why. Clearly Rudd personally is part of it, but his Newspoll lead over Howard as preferred PM (6%) is only half Labor lead’s on the two-party preferred (12%). The issue polling that has come out from ACNielsen and Newspoll this week helps us see what else might be going on.

Newspoll asks which party would best handle 18 issues, so it provides the widest scope for analysis. As The Australian, ever-keen to find a positive angle for the Coalition, noted this morning Labor has made no progress on probably the most discussed issue, industrial relations. I doubt this is a failure on Gillard’s part though – the labour movement has thrown everything they have into this issue for the last two years, and Labor was probably already as high as it could go.

Another traditional Labor strength, ‘health and Medicare’, has also seen only modest gains (I can’t even remember who their health spokesperson is), but it’s still the equal highest rating (45%) since Newspoll started polling this issue in July 1990. The Coalition on 33% is above their all-time low (26%), but it’s not much to show for the tidal wave of cash that it has sent over the health system- real per person spending up nearly 40% between 1995-96 and 2005-06.
Continue reading “Do issues explain Labor’s lead?”

Should the government increase funding for mining courses?

The Australian Institute of Metals and Metallurgy says that there is a shortage of graduates for mining companies. Its analysis of why, reported in The Australian this morning, is this:

[AIMM chief executive] Mr Larkin said the federal Government had given a commitment to fund disciplines of national importance but, because of the Government’s philosophy to move to a user-pays and market-driven tertiary education system, that was not happening.

As readers of this blog know, a tertiary education system in which market price signals are banned and places allocated by quota does not constitute a ‘market-driven’ system. Students have had the downside of part-user pays, the added costs, but not the upside, the collective power to shape the system in their interests.

It could be, however, that price signals from government are affecting university behaviour in supplying places relevant to the minerals industry. With a few exceptions, they can move places between courses within the dozen funding clusters, and with declining real funding per student there is a strong incentive to put places in courses with lower costs. If the low number of annual graduates in metallurgy cited in the article is correct, then universities will have a problem achieving economies of scale.

AIMM’s solution is for the federal government to increase funding by $4,000 per student in minerals courses. But why should a massively profitable industry like mining receive an indirect subsidy? Price signals working back through salaries should be sufficient to persuade potential students with interests compatible with mining careers to allow universities to charge the fees necessary to make these courses viable, with far more scope for fine-tuning than a sum like $4,000, which seems based only on matching the subsidy for agriculture, and not on an real cost information.

The problem here is that Australian doesn’t have a market-driven tertiary education system, not that it does.

A proxy debate on the citizenship test

Last week the Senate referred the legislation for the citizenship test to an inquiry, with submissions to be received by 31 July. This legislation has had the soft left excited for months, and this inquiry will set off another round of criticism. Though welcoming an opportunity for people to have their say, Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett issued a media release saying:

“I am concerned that the government is planning to spend over $100 million on a citizenship test that runs the risk of reducing an important unifying concept to little more than a game of Trivial Pursuit.

“Citizenship is a common bond that the government has seen fit to turn into a wedge to foster community division.

This debate has become heated partly because it combines (or appears to combine) two things which excite the left: race/ethnicity and John Howard. An article by Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell in the most recent issue of People and Place quotes many remarks along the lines of those in Senator Bartlett’s media release, some going so far as to suggest a citizenship test takes a step back in the direction of the White Australia Policy.

Sometimes a way of securing a more rational discussion of an issue is to put it to one side and discuss a proxy issue – one which raises similar considerations but lacks the same emotive political context. As it happens, we have a possible proxy issue in Australia’s recent past, the teaching of civics in schools.
Continue reading “A proxy debate on the citizenship test”

Does union power still frighten voters?

Over at LP, Mark Bahnisch asks whether the government’s attack on union power under Rudd will work:

There’s an unexamined premise in commentary about this tactic of the Government – that unions are wildly unpopular. But how true is that? Unfortunately, there is no time series data on union sympathy. But there are three large-scale surveys conducted this decade that reveal some fascinating results.

Actually, there is time series data on union sympathy – I reported on nearly twenty years of fairly consistent questions in this 2005 article. On the the issues of whether unions have too much power and whether there should be stricter regulations of trade unions there is a clear decline in hositility towards unions. All the polls prior to 1990 (including earlier polls with different questions that I did not show in that article) showed between two-thirds and three-quarters of respondents thought that unions had too much power. This century, less than half of respondents have thought that.

This accords with changes in objective conditions. In the worst year of union havoc inflicted on Australian society, 1974, a staggering 6.3 million working days were lost to strikes. Continue reading “Does union power still frighten voters?”